Saoirse Ronan was knee-deep in lamb goo on the first day of filming “The Outrun,” a searing look at addiction that premiered on Friday at the Sundance Film Festival.
Adapted from Amy Liptrot’s best-selling memoir, “The Outrun” centers on Rona, a recovering alcoholic who returns home to the Orkney Islands in Scotland after spending a hard-living decade in London. Eager to escape the temptations of her former life, she helps out on her father’s sheep farm, where she isn’t afraid to get her hands dirty.
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“I delivered seven lambs,” she said proudly at the Variety Studio presented by Audible. “That was very terrifying. I didn’t know if I was going to kill the lamb as I was pulling ’em out.”
Following the Sundance premiere of “The Outrun,” the 29-year-old actor sat down to talk about how Beyoncé’s “Renaissance” helped her prepare for one of her meatiest and most demanding roles while also revealing a planned “Barbie” cameo that never came to pass.
Congrats on your movie’s Sundance premiere. What was it like watching it with an audience?
Terrifying. It was really nerve-wracking to see it with an audience. I’m really glad it went well. I had a big pizza at midnight, and [then] I was sleeping soundly.
How did this project land on your radar?
We found the book first. It was introduced to me through [my partner] Jack Lowden, who also produced it and is a proud Scotsman. He had been to the Orkney Islands and had completely fallen in love with the place, the people and the culture. That’s when he discovered “The Outrun.” We were in lockdown a few years ago and he said, “You need to read this because this is the role you need to play.” I instantly fell in love with Amy’s writing and how she captured the struggle of addiction.
You’ve done a lot of period films, so this is a more modern role than audiences are used to seeing you in. How does your preparation differ for a movie that’s set in the present day?
When you’re doing something that’s set in the Second World War, you’re more likely to do research into the time period. You need to pay attention to etiquette, how people held themselves, how they communicated and how intimate they were with one another physically. When it’s modern, you don’t have to think about that at all. There’s a real freedom.
What is it like to develop such a personal story with the actual person it’s about?
Very intimidating. You feel like there’s a lot of responsibility on your shoulders. We delve into her relationships with her family and friends, some of whom she lost along the way. To protect that while also still authentically showcasing her life was difficult to find the balance initially.
Your character has a Scottish accent. What are the nuances and differences from your own Irish accent?
Scot-ish. I’ve done a fully Scottish accent before [in ‘Mary Queen of Scots’], which I’d love to redo. I live half my life up in Scotland now, so I’m more in tune with the accent. In general, Irish people are a bit louder than Scots. The Irish accent is more round and very muscular. The Scottish keep everything a bit flatter.
What is the key to playing drunk on screen?
It was really difficult. There were times I found it very upsetting. I made the decision beforehand [about] music and physicality work so I had something to hold onto.
What songs did you listen to while filming?
This might be surprising, but [Beyoncé’s] “Renaissance” had just come out. It was a lot of “Renaissance,” which I think is a perfect album.
Your character has a lot of cathartic dance sequences. What was it like to film those?
It was great. I feel like I have a real freedom when I have the excuse of a camera being there. I’m very uninhibited when I get to dance in a scene, even if I look ridiculous.
There are a lot of nature facts throughout the movie. Were there any fun tidbits that stuck with you?
We have 60% of the same DNA as jellyfish. That’s kind of wild. My fascination with seals went to a whole new level with “The Outrun.”
Rona goes through a lot of hairstyle changes. Did you actually dye your hair or were you wearing a wig?
We didn’t have the money for wigs. Kat Morgan, who did the hair and makeup, found this clay that was quite amazing. We didn’t spraypaint it. You could just wash it right out and change it to another color.
Do you think it would be more terrifying to help a lamb give birth or jump out of a moving vehicle like your character does in “Lady Bird”?
Well, the only thing I’ve done for real is deliver a lamb. That was very terrifying. I didn’t know if I was going to kill the lamb as I was pulling ’em out. They’ve got a lot of goo in their airwaves when they come out. So, you have to get hay and stick it up their nose so they can sneeze it out. And you have to rub them really aggressively to get the air moving through them. If you don’t do that, they’ll die. I think that’s scarier.
That was real? You actually delivered the lamb?
Yes, I delivered seven lambs. Lambing season takes place at a certain time every year. In Orkney, it’s around April. We would get to the farm at about 4:30 a.m. We did it for about three or four days. I don’t know how explicit you want me to get, but you’d know which ewe was going to go into labor in the next hour. You’d have to pinpoint the ewe in a pen of maybe 40 sheep and tackle it, which is really difficult. They’re really strong and don’t want to be caught. I’d put my leg on the ewe and make sure she’s calm and stick my hand up her and pull her lamb out. I was totally up for doing it, but I was really scared. I grew up in the country, but not on a farm.
Greta Gerwig said she would revisit your character in a sequel to “Lady Bird.” Have you discussed it with her? Where do you think Lady Bird would be now?
She’s based on Greta so, does she make “Barbie”? I don’t know. [Laughs]. We did discuss while we were making the film that we would love to revisit it. I’ve heard she’s started talking about it. I’ll do everything with her for as long as she’ll have me.
Timothée Chalamet said you and he were supposed to have a cameo in “Barbie.” Did you ever find out who you’d be playing if your schedule worked out?
I don’t know what he was going to be, but I was definitely going to be a Weird Barbie. I don’t know how to take that. I would have been with Kate McKinnon, so that would have been nice. I had a scene but didn’t ever get to do it, and it wasn’t in the movie.
What was the scene?
I can’t even remember now, but it was weird. I think I’d be the strange girl who talked to herself and always had her pet dog with her and always talked to the dog and wouldn’t look at anyone.
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